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Recto has declared war on us by watering down sin tax bill - civil society

Civil society groups and the Department of Health symbolically watered down the cigarettes in protest of the Senate Committee of Ways and Means' report released on Wednedsay. (Likha Cuevas-Miel/ means BUSINESS

MANILA - Civil society groups on Wednesday said Senate Committee on Ways and Means chair Ralph Recto has waged war on sin tax reform advocates by watering down the bill that seeks to hike levies on cigarettes and alcohol products.

"We will be demanding for his resignation, even his ouster, from that committee. It only goes to show that he is defying the administration. He is defying the Department of Health, he is defying the Department of Finance, he is defying President Aquino," Filomeno Sta. Ana, Action for Economic Reforms executive director, said in a briefing.

According to the draft committee report, the final incremental revenues that the government will get from the hike in excise taxes on the so-called sin products will only be around P15 billion to P20 billion---a little over a fourth of the Senator Miriam Santiago's bill supported by the DOF and the DOH.

DOF Secretary Cesar Purisima said they are thanking Sen. Recto for his efforts but "they fall short of what we need."

Meanwhile, Senator Franklin Drilon said the committee report did not veer away from the present sin tax system, which will result in lower incremental taxes on cigarettes as compared to the House version.

"It means that yung mababang presyo ng sigarilyo ay mas mababa ang buwis; doon naman sa mas mataas ay mas mataas ang buwis. Iyon po ang present system at iyon po ay sinundan ng Committee report," he said.

Drilon added that he respects the right of Recto to submit his version to the Senate but it will still be subject to debate and amendments.

"I, myself, will propose an amendment and will submit it for the Chamber’s consideration. That’s how it works," he said.

The senator also said the number of price tiers is too many and the eight-year grace period "too long" before it follows a single tax rate as provided under the Ways and Means report.

"The number of tiers makes the administration difficult and it also makes cheaper cigarettes continuously available to the poorest sector, which is the more vulnerable. They are the ones who would go to public hospitals and would have to be responded to by public health allocations," he said